Picks and Pans Review: Frost & Fire

updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Roger Zelazny

The short story is a tricky proposition for science fiction writers. It allows them to show off their ingenuity by trotting out imaginative premises, settings and creatures in a short space. But the brevity is usually restricting. After all, when a sci-fi writer wants to deal with even such a familiar subject as, say, divorce, it's usually through the visors of two nitrogen-breathing behemoths on the planet Norgon.

Zelazny, author of the Amber novels, deals with this bind better than most in this collection. He's good at developing fantastic concepts and characters in a few deft strokes without burdening the narrative. This serves him well on the more ambitious pieces, for instance, "Permafrost," where a man and woman, transmogrified into forces of nature and technology, battle for domination of a frozen planet.

In general, the longer stories are stronger. An example is "Itself Surprised," about brutal weapons of destruction zooming through the universe long after the war they were built for ended. But even here, Zelazny has to telescope his ideas. It's like those old half-hour Twilight Zone episodes. Just when things are getting good, time's up. The endings are often abrupt, the resolutions too neat to be satisfying.

Zelazny's prose is also prone to veer off into the rococo, as in this interior monologue: "Bristle and thrum. Coming now. Perchance. Perchance. Perchance. I say. Throstle. Crack. Sunder. Split. Open. Coming. Beyond the ice in worlds I have known. Returning. He." Usually though, Zelazny is a clear, limber stylist and a generous, thoughtful soul. If he gets carried away occasionally, isn't that what sci-fi is for? (Morrow, $16.95)

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